Ontario announces new rules restricting pesticides linked to bee deaths

WATCH: 16×9’s investigation “Season of Change”

Ontario’s farmers will have to reduce their use of a widespread pesticide, linked to bee deaths, by 80 per cent in the next two years, according to new final rules issued today by Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

The class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids are widely used in agriculture. Close to 100 per cent of corn seed and 60 per cent of soybean seed sowed in Ontario, a total area of almost four million acres in the province, are treated with neonics.

But these pesticides are also widely suspected of contributing to bee losses as high as 58 per cent in Ontario in the winter of 2014.

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The new rules will allow farmers to keep using neonics if they can “demonstrate continued need for their use.” Farmers will have to undergo training on pesticide use, and get special soil assessments that confirm a pest problem before they are allowed to use the product.

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Ontario is the first large jurisdiction in North America to implement this partial ban, which is spearheaded by Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, Glen Murray.

Right now neonics “are used almost like an insurance policy,” Murray says. “It’s being used on all corn seeds and most soy seeds whether or not the pests are there. So the very minimum now, in the first year, the pests are going to have to be there in (sufficient) numbers…to support some use of (neonics) and over time that will be further reduced to safer levels.”

READ MORE: Proposed ban of suspected bee killer sets off massive fight in rural Ontario

CropLife, the lobby group representing the pesticide industry, has fought hard against a partial ban, it also declined an on-camera interview with Global News. In a recent blog post, Ted Menzies, the President of CropLife Canada accused the government of “ignoring the science and dismissing input from those in the agricultural value chain,” such as farmers.

In 16×9’s last investigation into neonics, CropLife said farmers may face significant loss if the partial ban comes into effect. “So the problem is that you may get farmers where… there will be very little impact. But you may get other farmers where their losses will be quite significant,” says Pierre Petelle, a vice president of CropLife.

An internal federal government draft report, obtained exclusively by Global News’ 16×9 last month, showed that banning neonics would have a minimal effect on corn and soybean yields overall. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency, the department that regulates pesticides estimated that a ban on neonics could mean up to a $91.3 million net loss in revenue for farmers, out of a total $4.69 billion, or 1.9 per cent.

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READ MORE: Banning neonics will have smaller impact on agriculture than industry estimates: leaked draft report

“We are concerned that farmers won’t have access to the tools they need to control pests because these regulations may handicap them,” says Mark Brock, Chariman of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, a farmers group that allied itself with Croplife to fight the new rules. Brock also said that his group is still reviewing the new regulations.

In contrast to the opposition from the pesticide lobby and some grain farmers, The Ontario Beekeepers Association likes the new rules. “This is something beekeepers have been hopeful for, for a very long time, for responsible use regulation on a pesticide that is used prophylactically on all these fields,” Tibor Szabo, the Association’s President says.

“The bee yards that are near corn and soy fields are at risk of being exposed, it’s highly, highly toxic so it’s a big issue,” Szabo says.

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